It has been a pretty strong year so far for the superhero movies genre. We’ve had The Lego Batman Movie, Logan, Wonder Woman and Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2, all of which have paired strong stories with strong storytelling. Spider-Man: Homecoming continues that winning streak.
A few months have passed since Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), has recruited Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland), to help out with a little fracas moviegoers know as Captain America: Civil War. But after having a taste of the big time in terms of superhero daring-do, Peter finds that stop bicycle thieves is not as exciting once he is back home in Queens. Stark promised to mentor the young hero, but instead has palmed him off onto his assistant “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), pleasing neither Peter nor Hogan. Against Stark’s explicit orders, Peter starts to investigate the appearance on the streets of high tech weaponry – scavenged together from tech left behind by the alien invaders from the first Avengers film – and that leads him to a chop-shop of sorts run by Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton). And soon,the young hero may be on a collision course with Toomes which could prove fatal.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is without a doubt the best representation of the classic Marvel Comics superhero character to hit the big screen as of yet. And I say this as a big admirer of director Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films from the early 2000s featuring Tobey Maguire as the wallcrawling superhero. It has heart and a good sense of humor about itself, but doesn’t neglect the weightier moral issues that have kept readers interested in the character since his debut back in 1962.
The movie managers a rather tricky feat in that it both is and isn’t a traditional superhero origin story. Audiences are well versed with the mechanics of how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man. With this being the second reboot of the franchise within five years, the movie wisely eschews the standard scenes of him getting bit by the radioactive spider and discovering his powers. All of that gets mentioned in one small throwaway exchange between Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). However, Spider-Man: Homecoming still goes through the characterization points of an origins story. Peter is very much on the cusp of adulthood, that time when all of us are expected to take on the twin mantles of power and responsibility that feature so strongly in the Spider-Man origin. It his journey through the film that leads Peter to accept and understand these mantles.
Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s screenplay is a very solid piece of writing, which almost comes as a surprise when you see that there are 6 credited screen writers for it. It definitely captures the awkwardness one can feel while in high school and plays Peters growing pains metaphorically in his yearning to be a superhero makes a difference in the world. At last year’s San Diego Comic Con, director Jon Watts said that they were really making a film about high school and that noted 80s writer/director John Hughes was a strong influence. It is hard not to see Peter’s own yearning to be taken seriously by other superheroes, in the shape of Stark, as not too similar to many of Hughes’s teen characters’ longing to be treated as adults. There are a couple of moments where the screenplay seems to be working a bit too hard to get us to the next major plot, resulting in a coincidence or two that might strain credibility. However the strength of the characters as written and as played by the cast, especially those involved in such plot mechanics dictated moments, make these contrivances forgivable.
Based on the trailers that were released prior to the film’s release, there was some criticism that Spider-Man: Homecoming looked more like an Iron Man film guest-starring Spider-Man. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Tony Stark does appear at key moments in the story, it’s always as a supporting character. He is someone who is helping guide Peter on his journey to becoming a hero, never overshadowing him in his own story.
Tom Holland does a grand job as Peter Parker. The young actor is can easily portrayed Peter as striving to be in adults while still jumping up and down on a bed complaining that he is not being taken seriously as a grown up. Downey is as good as he always is as Stark, finding some new shades to the character as he finds himself thrust into a mentor/father-figure relationship with Peter. Keaton’s Toomes has a bit more meat to him than the usual Marvel movie bad guy, and he makes the most of it. The supporting players all turn in good work from Marisa Tomei as Peters’ Aunt May to Martin Starr’s upbeat teacher, a rather funny, 180 degree turn away from his character on HBO’s Silicon Valley.
If you want to attribute Sony for getting their Spider-Man franchise back on track, you need to acknowledge that their deal with Marvel Studios is what facilitated this development. It is Marvel who called the creative shots for this film with Sony footing the bill. (Let’s just treat treat the film’s title as a not so subtle reference to a coming back home of Spider-Man to publisher Marvel Comics, as read.) Sony, of course, will get the proceeds at the box office well Marvel will get all the merchandising revenue. And if the movie takes off with fans the way that it should, that could be quite a nice haul for both. The dividend of this arrangement for fans is that it allows Spider-Man to join his comic book colleagues in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Right up front, the movie makes its connections to the overall Marvel Studios franchise very, very clear. However once that link gets established, the film is allowed to go and carve out its own unique space within that world. And in this summer’s movie landscape.